Open Studio with Jared Bowen


Behind Harvard Art Museums, Ruby Rose Fox, and more...

Jared goes behind the scenes at Harvard Art Museums, and Ruby Rose Fox performs.

AIRED: August 25, 2017 | 0:26:46

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen.

Coming up onOpen Studio,

we go behind the scenes of the Harvard Art Museums,

from refrigerated photography to giving prints a bath.

>> If it's a regular intaglio print,

like an etching or an engraving, and the paper's darkened,

we can actually put it in a bath of water.

>> BOWEN: Then chanteuse Ruby Rose Fox joins us

about her very personal song stylings.

>> It is all about sound for me, and "Does this feel right?

"Am I communicating accurately

in terms of the story I'm trying to tell?"

>> BOWEN: Plus an artist whose scope is silk.

>> They have a very painterly quality to them,

and they have a very tapestry-like quality.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

Most of the time here onOpen Studio,

we show you everything museums have taken great care

to place before us.

This time though, we're going behind the scenes.

The Harvard Art Museums recently allowed us in for a look

at what happens before art makes its way into the gallery.

Where it's stored, how it's hung.

Even, sometimes, how it's bathed.

(chatter echoing)

In the galleries of the Harvard Art Museums,

you'll find room after room of methodically curated paintings,

sculpture, and prints.

Each one with art to show and stories to share.

>> We actually start very early on, kind of coming up with

our initial lists of what we might like to include

in any given gallery.

And then, basically, it's a process of elimination.

>> Yeah, I like the idea of having these kind of grouped,

because then you could follow the narrative a little bit more

and you would pay attention.

>> BOWEN: Early one summer morning,

Makeda Best, the photography curator,

and Lynette Roth, who oversees modern and contemporary art,

map out an upcoming exhibition of Lorna Simpson photographs.

>> Can you do all the ladies?

Like, there are these ladies, and then there are...

Oh no, these are (inaudible).

>> These are the kinds of things I want people to really see.

These kinds of details.

>> BOWEN: It's an exhibition Best has been working on

for seven months already.

It continues to evolve once she sees how it appears

in the gallery.

A show is the result of countless decisions,

the pair say, and not all of them in their control.

>> A lot of this is coming, can often be driven,

by the artists and their own requirements

for how things are installed.

>> Or even framed.

I mean, how things are framed...

Do they want a frame?

Or, you know, there's lots of different factors

that go into it.

Even the choice of the frame, the choice of the glass,

all of this impacts.

>> BOWEN: Until they go on view here, all photography is held

inside a vault called "cold storage."

Box upon box of photographs kept at a cool 55 degrees,

with 40 percent humidity,

thanks to constantly humming air conditioning.

(loud humming)

They receive special treatment, unlike most of the collection

which is neatly filed away in regular climate control.

>> In this particular space, we typically store

our color photography, and this particular temperature

will help reduce the chemical reaction,

so it allows the color of the photography

to sustain itself longer.

>> The color change is quite dramatic.

>> BOWEN: When there are problems or questions

about works of art, they often land with

conservation scientist Georgina Rayner.

>> I have a piece here today.

It is a Japanese print that will go up on exhibition

in the future, and so one of the questions

about this piece is the blue pigment.

>> BOWEN: Rayner uses scientific analysis to determine

the condition of pieces and whether they've suffered

from issues like light damage.

For that, she uses this machine called the Microfader.

>> We have this xenon lamp which shines an intense light

onto the artwork, and then, the reflected light,

which is what we perceive as color,

is collected by the spectrometer.

And so, we can see the color change happening.

>> BOWEN: That's also the work of the team upstairs

in the Strauss Conservation Center.

Although, it's decidedly more low-tech.

Here a porcupine quill is among the tools of the trade

used to treat and conserve works on paper,

like this centuries-old Indian drawing.

>> This lab, we take care of watercolors, prints,

drawings, photographs.

We repair tears and we fill holes

and we look at everything for stability.

>> BOWEN: Works on paper, which are especially susceptible

to light damage, can only be on view for four to six months

at a time, says senior conservator Penley Knipe.

For other types of damage, there's a simple solution,

in solution.

>> If it's a regular intaglio print like an etching

or an engraving and the paper's darkened,

we can actually put it in a bath of water,

usually after we've done some testing

and get a lot of that discoloration out.

>> BOWEN: Wait, so you... this, I think, is fascinating.

You actually take an old master print and put it in water?

>> Yeah, routinely.

>> BOWEN: How does that work?

>> So paper is very sized with gelatin or something

so it doesn't just fall apart.

>> BOWEN: The Strauss Center is also the site of sleuthing,

where works are routinely scanned

and discoveries are made.

>> Old inscriptions...

what we mostly are discovering are the way the artists work.

So we might find underdrawing.

(staggered drilling)

>> BOWEN: After everything you've just seen,

this is where we meet the work.

With security fit for a VIP,

says exhibitions manager Karen Gausch.

>> There's a whole traveling situation that

a painting or a drawing will go through from storage to here,

where it's crated and it's handled with gloves.

It's in a climate-controlled vehicle.

The location is scanned and tracked wherever it goes.

>> BOWEN: And once they're here,

like these 19th century prints and paintings,

virtually all that's required, just like at home,

are a hammer and nails.


>> The level of the height from the floor

is always 61 inches to a center eyeline.

This is a standard visitor height.

And we also have security in place.

We have alarms on things and security hardware.

And a little bit of extra connections

that you might not have in your home.

>> BOWEN: Department after department, team after team,

it's a hive of activity, all for our viewing pleasure.

Next, there are a lot of bests associated

with singer Ruby Rose Fox.

Best Female Vocalist, Best Pop Artist,

Performer of the Year.

She's made quite a splash here in Boston,

both for her soulful voice and deeply introspective writing.

She leads off our interview performing her song

"The Matador."

♪ You say I never tell our story right anymore ♪

♪ I'm not a liar I'm forgetful ♪

♪ And I leave an open door

♪ I remember your gold lamé

♪ You said you liked it when the audience looked your way ♪

♪ Babe, I'm not mad anymore

♪ Heard you're no longer a matador ♪

♪ We're barred in Barcelona and on the Lower East ♪

♪ You were always the savior

♪ I was always the beast

♪ And I know that you told me not to call ♪

♪ But they turned Las Arenas into a shopping mall ♪

♪ I hope you're not mad anymore ♪

♪ 'Cause you're my favorite matador ♪

♪ Matador (voice echoing)

♪ So Catalonia

♪ Put me in the ring

>> BOWEN: Ruby Rose Fox, thank you so much for joining us.

And again, that was your song, "The Matador."

So here you are, you were this, what,

four- or five-year-old besotted with Roy Orbison?


That kind of got you to where you are today?

>> Yeah. I think it did.

It was definitely my first musical experience.

>> BOWEN: And what about Roy Orbison captivated you?

>> It was just totally immediate.

And I had like a little Fisher Price tape player.

With a little, like boingy microphone,

and I taped it off the radio.

(Bowen laughing)

And I just was overwhelmed by his voice,

and I just couldn't stop singing.

It was "Only the Lonely."

I thought it was "Holy Banoli,"

and I just listened to him my whole life pretty much.

>> BOWEN: And I know you've also really been inspired

by Leonard Cohen.

>> Yeah. Definitely.

I mean, for me, Leonard Cohen is like my biggest muse.

If I'm feeling lost,

I'll usually watch like a Leonard Cohen documentary.

But absolutely.

Those two are definitely the biggest influences I have.

And I started writing right around the time

that I discovered Leonard Cohen.

I heard what he was doing with language,

and I was at the time writing all these avant-garde

one-woman shows that were very Beckett-like and weird,

and it, sometimes it's just that one person that frees you

to find your path, and I just was waiting

for his voice to come along to open something up in me.

>> BOWEN: You have a theater background.

You studied theater and drama,

but then you arrived at songwriting and singing.

What does it do for you that theater hadn't?

>> That's a great question.

First of all, I had agency over my life,

where in the role of an actor, I felt very disempowered.

And, so just the career of being a musician,

I was like "I can do this; I can make my own band;

I can write my own material."

So, in that aspect, it worked for me.

But also, I think I feel like I've always just wanted a...

to share feeling with other people.

And what I realized, when I opened my mouth

and started singing as an older person,

once I kind of found my voice and accepted my voice,

that I could evoke emotion in other people very, very quickly.

And, maybe what would happen over, you know,

the whole course ofHamlet could happen in two minutes,

and that was so exciting to me.

>> BOWEN: How do you do that through song?

>> That's a really hard question.

I mean, for me that's sort of like,

"Why does the sun rise in the morning?"

I don't know.

Like, I think it's the vibration of feeling.

The literal physical vibration.

I don't know if it's something that can be answered

through language.

I hope that's not a cop-out.

>> BOWEN: No, but it's something you feel.

>> Yeah, it's something you feel with other people,

in real space and time.

>> BOWEN: In the intro, I described your voice

as very soulful because it's so low, but...

>> Yeah.

>> BOWEN:'ve given a lot of thought to that.

>> Well, I didn't always sing that low.

♪ You're not a bad man

♪ You're not a bad man

♪ You're not a bad woman

I sang a lot higher when I was younger,

because I think I had an idea of what a female should sound like.

And that was just very subconscious.

I never knew I was doing it.

But I... took me a long time to just accept

the timbre of my voice, and that when I let it vibrate

in a deeper, richer way, that that was actually my true voice.

And, even now, sometimes I listen to things

that I record, and I'm like "I do sound like a dude sometimes!

(both laughing)

And so, it took a bit of maturity and bravery

to step into that next phase of my artistic life.

>> BOWEN: Does how you sound inform your songwriting

to some degree?

>> Yes, and that goes back to some of my training

in Shakespeare.

In that the sound of the words really matter to me.

What vowels you're singing conveys different emotions

and different things.

>> BOWEN: How much do you labor over that?

I know Sondheim talks about that every single syllable matters.

>> Yeah. I labor a lot.

And I'm definitely not fast to compose something.

And it is all about sound for me,

and "Does this feel right?

"Am I communicating accurately

in terms of the story I'm trying to tell?"

So, it's a laborious process, but only in the sense that

you have to stick with it.

And sometimes, you just have to go home and say,

"Didn't work for today, I'm coming back tomorrow,

and I'm going to try something else."

>> BOWEN: Where do you write, you don't write at home?

>> Oh no.

No. Because my voice is so loud, I would just annoy everyone!

(both laughing)

So I have a studio in Cambridge that I write out of, mostly.

You know, because I think you need to experiment,

and say "How loud do I want this to be?"

or "How quiet do I want this to be?"

and you really need to feel free to just make a mess.

>> BOWEN: You can get very raw in your songs.

>> Sure.

>> BOWEN: You really expose yourself.

>> Yeah.

>> BOWEN: But when you talk in your songs about

notions of abuse and things like that, how do you consider that

in relation to your audience in that connection with people?

>> I think I remember back to all the times

that I've suffered and felt alone.

And that goes back to Roy Orbison.

He experienced great pain.

And I think what I was resonating with was a person

who'd gone through a lot.

And I had gone through a lot.

And it's a gift to me when I sing

and somebody resonates with that, and is...

feels like they're opened or healed by it.

♪ He hit me

♪ I took a shot

♪ He kissed me

♪ And I forgot

>> BOWEN: What then is it like to hear your fans

sing your songs back to you?

Or if you're in a concert, and then suddenly your experiences,

your words are theirs, being given back to you.

>> Yeah, that's pretty weird.

(Bowen laughs)

And awesome!

It feels great.

And it's also like, "Wow, these really personal things

"that I decided to share with the public through songwriting

um... are now coming through someone else's mouth."

>> BOWEN: So we're in an age now where you can...

you have ownership of your music,

and you can move it along.

But does that make it also difficult?

>> Absolutely. Absolutely.

It's amazing and horrible.

(both laughing)

So, everyone can make music off of their computer now.

Which is great, but it makes it so just the whole...

the whole internet is so, so saturated.

So it's hard to be heard.

But, I think that the artist now has to be an entrepreneur.

And, in that way, I think it's a gift,

because I've learned so many insane, insanely weird skills

by... having to do everything!

And I love that.

>> BOWEN: Pushing like this, and pushing yourself,

where do you think this will ultimately take you?

How far do you think it will take you?

>> Oh, goodness.

Well, I hope to the moon!

(both laughing)

I'm not sure...

I was just thinking the other day that when you go in your car

to take a really big trip, that

if you were to know everything that was about to unfold,

that you would be totally overwhelmed and unable to drive

and probably crash your car.

(Bowen laughing)

And that you get one Siri signal at a time.

So, my sort of mantra is to follow,

just absolutely uncompromisingly follow my heart.

But I just look at one thing at a time.

And who knows what's going to happen?

Who knows where that will lead?

But I'm grateful for all the support and sort of love

that Boston has offered so far.

>> BOWEN: Well, thank you so much for joining us.

Such a pleasure to speak with you.

Will you play us a song?

Will you play us out?

What will play us?

>> I'm going to play a song

called "The Age of the Internet Bully," which is...

>> BOWEN: Written recently, I would imagine?

>> Written right after the election,

but is more and more relevant.

♪ I fell in love with a business man ♪

♪ I sold him my hair and my clothes ♪

♪ We had a meal like a Rockefeller deal ♪

♪ I just wanted to buy you a rose ♪

♪ I froze that rose in a nitrogen tank ♪

♪ And I checked it every chance I got ♪

♪ I know it's funny

♪ Yeah, it's funny to me too

♪ I didn't want that thing to rot ♪

♪ So, Boy Wonder, come to me

♪ To survive the age of the internet bully ♪

♪ I'm afraid of the miniatures on his shelf ♪

♪ And the camera pointed on myself ♪

♪ If the empire should fall

♪ Boy Wonder, come, let's have a ball ♪

>> BOWEN: Moving on to Minneapolis now,

artist Tim Harding uses scraps of silk and a sewing machine

to create kaleidoscopic images.

>> I've always been very interested

in that ambiguous line between abstraction and representation.

I've had situations where I've been in shows

and somebody will see my work from a little bit of a distance

and they weren't sure whether it was ceramic or paper or wood

or painting.

And then they'll come up and realize that it's a textile.

It sort of transcends the fact that it's a textile

and it crosses the lines from one media to another media.

I find that real interesting.

(sewing machine clacking)

As a studio arts major in college,

painting was my emphasis.

At some point, I realized I was more interested

in the tactile quality

of the canvas than I was in the pigments,

so that started me on exploring that material.

I wanted to do all the kinds of things

that you're not supposed to do, using a blow torch on the silk,

blasted them with a shotgun.

And that was kind of my approach,

was to take something and see what you could achieve

by breaking it down.

What turned out to be the best result was

from the simplest thing and that was from tearing and ripping

and cutting and slashing.

My work is wall pieces of stitched silk.

They have a very painterly quality to them

and they have a very tapestry-like quality.

You know we're cutting the fabric and kind of letting it do

what it wants to do.

So there's always a little bit of a surprise element there

and being able to control the technique as much as you can

but then just stopping short of total control

and letting the material kind of go and do what it wants to do.

It's a very collaborative environment here.

When we are in the experimental process on a piece,

I look for as much input as I can from everybody.

Parts of the process are tedious.

I'm fortunate to be able to delegate out

some of the portions to people

who are interested in detail work

and I can really focus on

composition, design, doing the layout,

which for me is the real painterly part.

The staff consists of my wife, Cathy,

who has been a collaborator since the beginning.

She actually taught me how to sew.

And Peggy Meyer, who did the stitching for us

and is an expert on this technique.

And then Cheryl Shern, a very skilled technician.

She works at the sewing machine; she cuts;

she does all the detail work.

(sewing machine loudly buzzing)

So this is a large-scale commission for the lobby

of a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi.

They wanted it to be an abstract piece.

I decided that I would have some subtle Islamic patterning

in there.

The texture has a lot of curvilinear detail to it

to just make a general suggestion in that direction.

Studio space here isn't big enough for us to hang

the whole piece, so we're going to be taking this down

and doing our test hang in the atrium

at the International Market Square in Minneapolis.

All right... here we go.

Heavy, huh?

Is this one heavier than the other one?

It got small all of a sudden.

Looks pretty good.

(all laughing)

You know, I've been at this for 30-some years

and it's just been such an interesting process.

It's a technique that I developed myself,

and have kept pushing the evolution of it

in different directions.

There's this little element of surprise

that's always in the background.

You know, you control it as much as you can,

and then you kind of let it happen.

That's part of the fun part, that surprise element.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, we take you on an epic house tour.

It's a host of famous manses that have become museums

including Naumkeag with its lush gardens in the Berkshires.

>> Here, you see sleek.

You see Art Deco.

You see whimsy.

>> BOWEN: Plus, there's no place like home

when it's the sprawling Eustis Estate in Milton.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online at,

and you can follow us on Twitter @OpenStudioWGBH.


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